First love, First Death
by Penny Barratt
Anna had moaned and pleaded and whined all summer; finally, her mother had given in.
“Be back in 30 minutes and don’t take him too far. He’s old and can’t stand the heat. It’s sweltering out there.”
Anna had thought about arguing, but decided not to push her luck. Not when she was being allowed, for the first time ever, to take the dog for a walk alone.
“He’s not old. He’s only a year older than me. And also,” she reasoned silently, “it’s old people who can’t stand the heat. The sun melts their skin and makes copper marks on their hands. But animals? How can rays get through that fur?” The dog looked up at her and smiled. She knew he agreed.
They walked together down the drive, up the tree-lined road and turned left, picking their way over the metal bars in a cattle grid. Soon the track turned steep, a dry line threading between two fields and leading up to the top of a hill where the hedge line petered out and rocky outcrops began.
The dust rose from the earth at every step, covering her feet with pale clay particles so that she could no longer see where her sandals stopped and socks began.
The dog trotted stiffly a few steps behind, breaking into a lopsided trot every so often in order to keep pace.
She remembered coming this way with her older sister. Once they had followed a long trail of old horse droppings covered with white mould all the way up the slope. “That’s icing sugar,” her sister had told her. “You can eat it.”
As she waited for the dog to catch up with her, she wondered how she could have been so young and stupid.
High above she heard the conversation of a flock of crows as they headed for the spinney at the top of the hill. “Those are eagles,” her sister had said. “Run when you see them or they will swoop and peck your eyes which will pop like two blue balloons filled with water.” She was wiser now and braver but, just in case, she bent down to hug the dog, burying her face in his coat as the crows passed overhead, briefly soaking up the sun’s heat like a sheet of black blotting paper.
A hundred metres shy of the green pine glade, the dog lay down.
His tongue, dry and pink and flecked with dirt, lolled between the gaps in his teeth. She thought he was smiling at her as usual. But when she tried to move on, he wouldn’t get up.
Penny Barratt spent 20 years as a business journalist and publisher. Earlier this year she vowed to attend fewer writing classes, write more, get a lot of rejections and finish at a least one of her three novels. Three out of four achieved so far with particular success at number three. Her work has appeared online at Visual Verse and Writing Magazine.